Montinore: Skin-Contact Whites Cast ‘L’Orange’ Glow
When wine aficionados hear “Willamette Valley,” they’re likely to associate this renowned Oregon wine region with one grape – Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir earns its fair share of well-deserved accolades. But Montinore Estate, a 200-acre winery in the northern Willamette Valley (Tualatin Hills AVA), knows that region is also ideal for growing cool-climate white varieties used to produce aromatic wines, and they’re showcasing that with their textured “L’Orange” skin-contact white blends.
To the west of the Willamette Valley, the Coast Range protects vineyards from the heaviest rainstorms that blow onshore from the cold Pacific Ocean. In many areas, the soil is well-draining, silty loam deposited when water from glacial Lake Missoula broke through an ice dam and flooded eastern Washington and western Oregon. The name “Montinore,” meaning “Montana in Oregon,” is a nod to these ancient geologic events.
Since 2008, Montinore has been Demeter Certified Biodynamic® and CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) Organic. As described by Demeter, “Biodynamic® agriculture is a philosophy and methodology that views a farm as a self-sustaining ecosystem entirely responsible for creating and maintaining its individual health and vitality without any external and unnatural additions.” Montinore is the largest producer of certified estate wines made from Biodynamic grapes in the US and makes one of the only Biodynamic sparkling wines in the country.
Montinore owner Rudy Marchesi, an iconic figure in the Willamette Valley, made and sold wine on the East Coast before becoming captivated by Oregon wine country. After overseeing operations and serving as vineyard consultant for several years at Montinore, Marchesi became the estate owner in 2005 and expanded the Biodynamic principles he had started to apply in the early 2000s. Hailed as “Oregon’s Beloved Biodynamic Mentor,” Marchesi was acknowledged as the Oregon Wine Press “Person of the Year 2018.” He is currently chairman of Demeter USA.
Marchesi recently announced plans to expand operations into the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. In addition to a 100,000-case new winery, the property will include stand-alone tasting rooms for Landlines Estates and Montinore Estate. Groundbreaking will occur this spring, with the tasting rooms expected to open in late 2021 or early 2022.
Like most Willamette Valley wineries, Montinore considers Pinot Noir its foundational grape. The estate crafts a variety of Pinot Noir wines, each with distinctive characteristics. Reflecting Marchesi’s deep Italian heritage, Montinore has also built a collection around Italian red varieties, including estate-grown Lagrein and Teroldego, two northern Italian grapes rarely seen in the US. The estate produces white varieties and blends from Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel, and Pinot Blanc.
Montinore’s L’Orange project is the brainchild of Stephen Webber, lead winemaker. Webber came to Montinore from DiStefano winery in 2006. He had previously spent time in Australia, where he gathered much of his larger-scale winemaking experience, and worked a vintage in Alsace, France.
While most white wines are made from the direct pressing of grapes to extract their juice, the grapes for skin-contact white wines (sometimes called “orange” or “amber” wines for their deep color) are soaked or fermented for a time on their skins. Winemakers say a little tannin from skins, stems, and seeds focuses the varietal expression of grapes and adds to the perception of liveliness and freshness in a wine.
Originally a Pinot Gris/Gewürztraminer blend, Webber switched up the recipe in 2017 and now produces Montinore’s L’Orange wines from approximately 60 percent Pinot Gris and 40 percent Muscat Ottonel. Both the 2018 and 2019 vintages are available for $35 per bottle.
Linda Whipple: The Willamette Valley is known for its Pinot Noir. What makes its white grapes so special?
Stephen Webber: I think the variety of microclimates certainly aids in allowing white grapes to show their best, along with a plethora of soil types and aspects to enhance their potential.
Montinore has south and east-facing slopes on which its Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Müller are planted, on mainly Laurelwood and Cornelius [silty and well-draining] soils, with a loess [fine silty dust] overlay. Great flavors and true varietal expression come forth and enable me to exercise real enjoyment in producing vivacious, exciting white wines.
LW: Why did Montinore start producing skin-fermented white wines?
SW: Well, I had been doing skin contact with my Gewürztraminer for many years, using either our tank press as a maceration vessel or a 48-hour soak in picking bins. The extraction of flavors we got was amazing, so we started extending that idea to some of our best Pinot Gris, and subsequently, our Muscat Ottonel.
LW: How would you describe L’Orange wines produced at Montinore?
SW: The L’Orange project is something we have developed in earnest since 2016. We use estate-grown Pinot Gris and Muscat in the blend. The Pinot Gris brings a quality vein of tropical and citrus notes to the wine and lends the acid, while conversely, the Muscat, which we ferment on skins in clay amphora, brings color, texture, and spice. The resulting blend is rich and intriguing, with layers of flavor and a hint of rusticity.
LW: What about your process is essential to bringing out the unique aromatics of your L’Orange wines?
SW: Skin soak Pinot Gris drawn from our best block for 24 to 48 hours with only a moderate sulfur addition; skin-fermented Muscat, use of traditional clay amphora, and native yeasts.
LW: Do you feel your skin-fermented whites reflect their terroir any more or less than non-skin-fermented whites? Why or why not?
SW: No, I don’t think so, not in the context of Montinore. Our vineyard is fairly uniform in its geography, so there are not wildly different sites featuring vastly different terroir. I think the secrets of the L’Orange lie more in the quality of the organic and Biodynamic fruit we grow and thoughtful winemaking technique in the winery.
LW: Tell me about the clay amphorae that Montinore commissioned specifically for your skin-fermented wines.
SW: Yes, onsite we have three different types of amphorae that we use both in our L’Orange program and also with our home-grown Lagrein and Teroldego. The original vessels were made by a local ceramics enthusiast that Rudy Marchesi knew. His name is Steve O Day, so these are known as the ‘Steves’ (!). We have also been purchasing somewhat larger [60-gallon] amphorae, beautifully made, from Andrew Beckham, a local ceramics teacher and owner of Beckham Estate Vineyard. We call these ‘Rouge Balls’ because of their reddish hue, and finally, we have some very traditional amphorae imported from Italy. All the vessels offer something different, whether that be in the size, shape, type of clay used, or their fermentation kinetics. It is a learning curve, but we certainly have enjoyed the journey of getting to know our ceramic friends!
LW: What do you wish consumers knew about Willamette Valley wines?
SW: That the Willamette Valley has an amazing diversity of varieties, sites, and personalities that together help to make really special wines packed with flavor, richness, texture, and longevity potential. The wines and the ideas behind them are constantly evolving, as we keep on learning more about this amazing area in which to grow and make wine.